How open are council meetings?

DCLG have today announced that residents, bloggers, tweeters, community activists and hyperlocal sites should have the same access and facilities to council meetings as traditional newspaper journalists. This is important because it means Government recognises the valuable contribute the wider community makes to accountability in local government.

It’s a very timely announcement. For a while now I’ve been interested in the openness of council meetings. Namely, whether citizens, media or councillors are permitted to live tweet/blog, record audio of or film public meetings.

I have secured permission to film the meetings of my local council meetings in Lichfield and heard stories of others being forced to leave or even arrested for attempting to do the same.

These are just a few examples of the current state of play so an effort to document which councils allow their meetings to be opened up I created Open Council Meetings, a simple project to track which councils allow tweeting, recording and filming of meetings.

My hope is that the project can help bring together localgov enthusiasts, hyperlocal bloggers and active citizens to monitor the situation and put pressure on councils to open up.

 

ifttt – an absurdly useful little tool

If this…then that (commonly known as ifttt) is a ridiculously brilliant little thing.

It allows you to set automated tasks based on your activities online – and is as easy to use as clicking a few buttons – no complicated wrangling with the likes of Yahoo! Pipes here.

Here’s an example. You can tell ifttt that when you post a photo on your phone to Instagram, it should copy it across and post it in your Flickr stream too.

Or. you could tell ifttt that when you save a bookmark in Pinboard, it should also create a link post in your Tumblr site.

The ‘recipes’ page on the ifttt site is full of examples of how users are stitching together loads of online services to create something new.

I set something up recently that made me feel a bit better about the photos I share online. I already have my Instagram photos sent to Flickr – and Flickr remains my main online photo archive. So, I added a rule to ifttt to save any photos that appear on Flickr to my Dropbox account.

Of course, Dropbox syncs files automatically with all my computers, so this means I get a local copy of my photos saved, giving a bit more peace of mind.

Now, I’ll admit my use of ifttt is pretty boring. Anyone doing anything more exciting?

Options for curating online content

Curation is an answer to the problem of information overload. There’s so much stuff online these days – how do you read it all? Or rather, how do you decide what’s worth your attention?

A way for an individual or organisation to build a community or network digitally is to become a trusted curator – in other words, getting popular by sorting the wheat from the chaff on other’s behalf.

There are quite a few tools out there to help you do it. Here’s a few.

1. Social bookmarking

I use Pinboard, but there’s also Delicious and Diigo, amongst others. You see a site or page you like, so you save it to your bookmarks usually using a button on your browser. You describe the link, tag it with keywords, and it joins a public list that others can browse.

I also republish all my bookmarks as occasionally posts here on the blog – I doubt if anyone ever actually looks at my Pinboard page.

2. Storify

Storify is a neat tool for bring content together in a single place around a certain event or topic. So whether it’s photos, videos, tweets, blog posts or whatever, every type of content can be added to a single page, making it potentially the top destination for someone wanting to find out about that topic.

3. Pinterest

A pretty new site this, and still invite-only I think. Pinterest is all about visual stuff, encouraging users to ‘pin’ images and videos they see on the web to their own ‘boards’ or group boards along shared themes.

There’s a big social element to Pinterest too, with users encouraged to ‘repine’ things they’ve seen on others boards to pass them on to their friends, and so on. Bit like retweeting I guess.

4. Paper.li

Paper.li is an automated curating thingy that pulls tweets and stories linked to in tweets together for you, publishing them in a daily ‘newspaper’ of useful content. This is all based on your own followers’ activity, so hopefully all the content ought to be relevant and interesting.

It’s good because it’s automated and you don’t have to do a lot to make it work. It’s bad because it’s automated and you don’t have a huge amount of control over what it publishes.

5. Tumblr

As well as being a blogging tool you can use to publish your own original pearls of wisdom, a lot of people use Tumblr to curate, by ‘reflagging’ stuff they’ve seen elsewhere. Again, Tumblr makes this easy by using a button in your browser. Increasingly popular amongst young people who wouldn’t normally be seen dead doing something as dorky as blogging, Tumblr’s a huge and growing network of people sharing, resharing and reresharing content.

It’s also home to some hilarious themed sites – like Glum Councillors, for example.

That’s it

There’s five from me – any more?

Why senior managers need to lead online

I wrote a thing for the Guardian’s Public Leaders’ Network:

The explosion in online innovation throughout public services is seeing more and more activity taking place on the net, whether via interactive websites, or mobile applications. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and problem solving on a scale unimaginable previously – and those in senior positions have to be a part of this conversation.

New Zealand government social media guidance

More examples of advice and guidance on using social media tools in government, this time from New Zealand.

The first bit is the High Level Guidance, described as helping:

organisations when they are trying to decide if they should use social media in a communications, community engagement, or a policy consultation context.  It is intended to be useful to managers and leadership teams, but also provides basic principles, code of conduct issues, and templates that are important for practioners of social media.

You can download it here.

The second is the Hands-on Toolbox, which

has been written to help practitioners who are setting up social media profiles and using the tools on a daily basis.  It has been written for public servants with limited experience using social media, but also offers tools and tips that will be useful for those practitioners who have been using social media for some time.

You can download that here.

The Twitter guide, updated!

One of the more popular things I have written is the guide to using Twitter in the public sector, published by my good friends at Learning Pool.

It was first produce a couple of years ago and was due an update, which has finally happened!

You can download the new version from the Learning Pool website – all for free, of course.

It would be good to get some feedback on the guide, and to hear what might be good to add to the next revision.

Don’t forget the Kind of Digital one page guides to various social media tools, which might be of use too!

If this then that

IFTTT

Here’s another cool little tool. ifttt, or ‘if this, then that’ is a way of automating tasks across your social networks. It describes itself as ‘digital duct tape’.

It basically allows you to set rules and actions to happen whenever you interact online.

One example described on the site is creating a task that whenever a photo is uploaded to Instagram, it should also be added to your Dropbox account.

Just to test it, I’ve created a task  that emails me everytime someone mentions me on Twitter. Not particularly useful, or unique, but the process for creating tasks is very user friendly, and the potential is huge, with lots of different services included, such as Facebook, Google Reader, Foursquare, Delicious, Tumblr, WordPress… the list goes on.

It’s a cool idea and I am sure that people more imaginative than I could come up with some great uses of it!

ACAS’ social networking guidance

ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, who you’ve probably heard of on news reports about negotiations between employers and unions – have published some guidance for employers on how to manage staff use of these sites at work.

Smart phones, internet, tweeting, blogging – we have accepted all of these innovations, and many more, as part of our working lives, helping us to work more flexibly, stay in touch for longer and respond to each other more quickly.

But is it all good news? Some estimates report that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain’s economy billions of pounds every year and add that many employers are already grappling with issues like time theft, defamation, cyber bullying, freedom of speech and the invasion of privacy.

So how should employers respond to the challenges posed by social networking tools at work?

New research from the Institute for Employment Studies, commissioned by Acas, advises employers to:

  • draw up a policy on social networking
  • treat ‘electronic behaviour’ in the same way you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’
  • react reasonably to issues around social networking by asking ‘what is the likely impact on the organisation?’

Worth checking out.